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Full text of "The Legacy Of Egypt"

Writing and Literature                     73
esque naivete, yet the intimations that we obtain of Old King-
dom literary style are far from encouraging. The semi-magical
spells of the Pyramid Texts are at once inhuman, disjointed, and
diffuse. It is possible that the moralizing books of Kagemni and
Ptahhotpe go back to the Fifth Dynasty, but such admiration
as they may excite will be a tribute to their worldly wisdom,
rather than to their literary quality. The Egyptians themselves
reverenced Imhotep and Hardedef as incomparable sages, but
nothing remains of their books, if ever they wrote any. One
autobiographical narrative, that of the Vizier Weni, incorporates
a short triumphal poem, each new thought being introduced
by a refrain:
This army returned in peace,
It had hacked to bits the land of the Sand-dwellers.
This army returned in peace,
It had crushed the land of the Sand-dwellers.
Such monotonous repetition is not infrequent even in some of
the finer compositions of later times, and the best that can be
said of it is that it shows a striving after literary form.
Thus it is impossible to agree with Feet's conjecture that the
lost literature of the Old Kingdom, like its art and architecture,
may well have transcended everything that came later. All the
more astonishing are the creations of the times of unrest follow-
ing the close of the Sixth Dynasty. Here metaphor runs riot,
and decadent features like a deliberate preciosity are not want-
ing. One Twelfth-Dynasty writer pathetically complains of the
difficulty of finding anything new to say, in fact there is abun-
dant evidence that literature was now an art supremely con-
scious of itself. Most connoisseurs of Egyptian antiquities will
have felt at some time or other that the general standard is very
low, but they will have taken comfort at the recollection of a
few pieces of incomparable beauty and grace. If it is scarcely
possible to say as much of Egyptian literature, nevertheless the
Middle Kingdom presents examples of a high order. My own